Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
(?-1899)
BIO
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Editor/Trans.
First Pub. Date
1881
Publisher/Edition
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
1899
Comments
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
Start PREVIOUS
736 of 1105
NEXT End

NATION

II.342.1

NATION, The (IN U.S. HISTORY). I. 1782-89. It has been suggested elsewhere (See DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE), that the American Union of States, so far as human agency is concerned, is not so much the creature of design as the result of necessity. Every influence conspired to produce it, though the concurrence of settlement by Englishmen within just the zone, from Florida to the great lakes, whose climate was most kindred to that which they had left, was undoubtedly the great fact which colored all that came after it. Had it been otherwise—had a strong colony of alien blood, French, for example, instead of a weak colony of kindred blood, been interposed between New England and Pennsylvania—who can tell how long it would have taken to combine the whole mass into one nation? Perhaps—indeed, almost certainly—the several elements would have gone on forever on their separate way, out of harmony with that the law of nature which seems to have marked out the central zone of the continent as the habitat of a single nation, and so failing to reach the high possibilities of their existence. whatever evidence of design this concurrence may show, of human design there is no trace. Anxiety to keep the golden treasure land which Columbus had opened; the temporary heat of a Canadian summer; the treachery of a pilot; anxiety to avoid the neighborhood of the Spaniard on the south and of the French man on the north: these, and an infinite variety of other influences. took each people to its appointed place, or kept is there.

II.342.2

—The last of the distinct English colonies was founded in 1732. (See GEORGIA.) Beginning with this date it is necessary, first, to lay special stress on the fact of the general homogeneity of the invading army of whites which is now firmly fixed upon the Atlantic coast, with a westward stretch of 3,000 miles of wilderness before it. From Florida to the bay of Fundy, everything is English. Almost in the centre there is a break, the former Dutch colonies, New York and New Jersey, but the break is more apparent than real. Even before their conquest by the English, seventy years before, they had been almost overcome by a steady influx of English colonization and influence, and a half century of possession has made this influx completely overmastering. If we look to language, which is the surest test, we find English everywhere predominant in New York and New Jersey, and very commonly to the exclusion of the Dutch. The Dutch pastors have already been forced to preach alternately in English and in their own language. Whitefield, in 1739, finds no break in his work by reason of alienage of people or language in New York or New Jersey, nor can we. There had been a break, indeed, but the union had taken place so naturally and so thoroughly that the line of fracture was already almost undistinguishable. Within its foreordained limits, the whole population is practically of one blood and language.

II.342.3

—In civil government there is the same homogeneity. All acknowledge the same king and the same common law; all have kept up their own parliaments and parliamentary government, no matter whether it be by their king's free grace or by stress of circumstances; all are free from any trace of nobility or privileged classes.

II.342.4

—In social economy the conditions are the same. In spite of the inevitable variations in non-essentials, the fundamental facts of family life are the same everywhere, and persons or families, who remove from one colony to another, fit into their new places as naturally as into the old. Instances, such as that of Franklin, are too numerous to require special reference. No one feels himself to be less "an Englishman" because of his removal from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania or from South Carolina to New York.

II.342.5

—In religion the conditions are the same: all the colonies are Protestant. Maryland alone is nominally Catholic; but he absolute toleration of its proprietors has from the beginning opened the doors so widely to Protestant immigration that the Puritan settlers in 1655-6, and a "Protestant defense association" in 1689, were able to seize the government and disfranchise the original Catholic settlers until the revolution.

II.342.6

—A population so prepared by juxtaposition, by continuity, by natural boundaries, and by homogeneity of blood, language, civil government, social economy, and religion, may be divided by the king's decrees into separate "colonies," but the decrees of a higher power than the king have already made them one nation. So long as their attention is exclusively taken up by the busy activities of immigration and settlement, they will ignore their fundamental union; but the very first necessity that impels them to national action will result, not so much in the formation of a single nation, as in a demonstration of the fact that that nation is already in existence. So early as 1643 a partial union had been begun (see NEW ENGLAND UNION), but the Indian dangers which impelled it were not sufficiently formidable to perpetuate its existence, and the people gradually subsided again into political quiescence. The first real pressure toward national action, and that only exerted upon the northern portion of the people, came from the inevitable conflict with the French in Canada.

II.342.7

—The English settlements have been already compared to an invading army, moving toward the west. On the north another people, the French, had already begun a similar invasion, but with far inferior prospects of success. Its primary base, the valley of the St. Lawrence, was comparatively narrow, and in winter almost inaccessible; its line of march was contracted, and by natural limitations was bent toward the southwest at Niagara; and from that point it lay directly across the path of advancing English migration, which, in full column, was to strike the French line in flank and at its weakest point. The result of a conflict under such conditions might have been easily foreseen; the French line was broken at the first shock, and the English swept on to the Mississippi. (See WARS, I.) But the conflict itself was an impelling force to another attempt at union (see ALBANY PLAN OF UNION), and it is noteworthy that a part of its design was "that the colonies would by this connection learn to consider themselves, not as so many independent states, but as members of the same body." The frame of government which was proposed gave the legislature distinctly national powers, but reserved to the crown the prerogatives which were then a part of the theory of the British constitution. Though the plan failed of adoption, the common efforts of the northern colonies throughout the war gave form to the national idea. Virginia, New York, New Jersey and New England troops, fighting side by side with British troops, learned to make the essential distinction between an Englishman and a provincial, or American; and, that lesson once learned, the rest was easy. The only necessity was that a new occasion should be found for national action.

II.342.8

—The policy of the British ministry, at and immediately after the peace of 1763, was singularly unfortunate. By forcing France to surrender her Canadian provinces, it relieved the English colonies from the threatening danger which had long made British protection seem essential to their security. By initiating the attempt to transform a strictly British parliament into an imperial parliament, with absolute power of taxation over a British people not represented in it, it forced into existence the most pressing of all occasions for national action in America. (See REVOLUTION.) The two influences, acting together, finally precipitated the formation of a distinct national government in 1775.

II.342.9

—In 1765 the first body which can be considered representative of the colonies in general held its meeting; but its proceedings were not legislative, and were confined to declarations and petitions. (See STAMP-ACT CONGRESS) On the revocation of the stamp act the dawning national spirit again subsided.

II.342.10

—The renewal of the scheme of parliamentary taxation, and, still more, the assertion of the right of parliament to abrogate civil government in America at its pleasure by the abolition or alteration of charters, roused the national spirit at last to something like a self-conscious existence. In 1774 the continental congress first met; in 1775 it became a real national assembly; in 1776 it took the unretraceable step of renouncing allegiance to the crown. (See CONGRESS, CONTINENTAL; DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE)

II.342.11

—Franklin, in 1770, laid down as the ground of justification of the American resistance to parliamentary taxation, that "the several colonies have equal rights and liberties, and are only connected, as England and Scotland were before the union, by having one common sovereign, the king"; and this has been taken as a text for the modern doctrine of state sovereignty by those who forget that the king was an integral and essential part of the sovereignty of each colony, and that, through him, the "sovereignty" of the colonies was itself in common from the beginning. (See STATE SOVEREIGNTY.) The warfare of the revolution was not at first aimed against the king's share of the sovereignty at all, but against the usurped domination of parliament. Until July 4, 1776, then, the king remained sovereign of American de jure, but a de facto national assembly had united into one, by their own consent, the dominions which he had originally made separate. (See DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, ALLEGIANCE.) The course of events may be summarized by saying that the transformation, by general popular will, of the continental congress into a revolutionary national assembly, after the first bloodshed, April 19, 1775, made George III., though without his own consent, king of one American nation, instead of thirteen, as before; and by the declaration of independence, and its successful establishment by war, this last sovereignty was wrested from him and passed to a stronger than he, the people of the United States. There it must continue to be vested until some stronger power shall disturb or change its location.

II.342.12

—According to this view of a much debated question, April 19, 1775, must be taken as the formal date of the birth of the new nation. All proceedings before that date are to be construed, so far as possible, by the municipal law of the thirteen commonwealths, as recognized parts of the British empire. All the great events after that date, the declaration of independence, and the ratification of the articles of confederation and of the constitution, must be considered mere municipal proceedings of a nation already in existence, which, however, still found it most natural and convenient to work through and by the state form of organization. But the intermediate event, the origin of the nation itself, is to be viewed under neither head, but in the light of admitted principles of international law. The above described merging of the separate sovereignty of the colonies, the crown being a part of each, into a common sovereignty of one nation and a king, did not take place by overmastering foreign force, as in the case of Poland; nor by the wholesale purchase of a venal national assembly, as in the case of Ireland; nor by the actual sale of the alienated sovereignty by its former sovereign, as in the case of Louisiana; nor by the conquered nation, as the price of a treaty of peace, as in the case of Alsace and Lorraine; but by the free and irrevocable consent of the whole people. When the merger had taken place, and when his share of the sovereignty of the whole mass had been wrested from the king by the whole people, the title of the new sovereign was as valid as that of the old. Argument, at any rate, can hardly prevail against it. Such a power as that of a nation, when once set free, is not to be conjured back into a bottle again by the words of any master of dialectics.

II.342.13

—In its original form, that of the so-called "continental congress," the new national government was at first revolutionary and not limited by any organic law. (See CONGRESS, CONTINENTAL.) The first attempt to frame an orgainic law for it was defective by reason of the survival of very much of the state sovereignty of the British colonial constitution, the evils of the survival being even aggravated by the elimination of the crown's share of the sovereignty, which had formerly been the common bond of union. (See CONFEDERATION, ARTICLES OF; STATE SOVEREIGNTY.) The situation was tersely and exactly described in Hamilton's striking sentence: "A nation without a national government is an awful spectacle." It was not until 1789 that a true national government, automatic, complete in all its parts and functions, having jurisdiction over individuals, and fitted to claim and enforce its rightful place as a member of the family of nations, was at last organized by the adoption of the constitution. (See CONSTITUTION, II.; JAY'S TREATY.) From that time began the seventy-six years' struggle between the national idea and the particularist state feeling, which ended in 1865 with the final establishment of the former as an integral principle of American politics.

II.342.14

—II. 1789-1801. The word "nation" and its derivatives were by no means favorites in our early political history. Instead of them, use was almost invariably made of vaguer phrases, such as "the people," "the public," "the public welfare," "the established government," "the union," "the confederacy," "our common country," "the community." Even when the invidious word occasionally crept into use, its sense was almost invariably geographical rather than political. The underlying feeling in regard to it may be gathered from an extract from the debate in the house of representatives, Aug. 15, 1789, on the proposed amendment prohibiting an establishment of religion. "Mr. Madison though, if the word 'national' was inserted before 'religion,' it would satisfy the minds of honorable gentlemen. Mr. Gerry did not like the word 'national,' and he hoped it would not be adopted by the house. It brought to his mind some observations that had taken place in the conventions at the time they were considering the present constitution. Those who were called anti-federalists at that time complained that they had injustice done them by the title, because they were in favor of a federal government, and the others were in favor of a national one. Mr. Madison with drew his motion, but observed that the words 'no national religion shall be established by law' did not imply that the government was a national one." This negation of nationality as a permanent political fact, was not confined to one party, but was a common feeling, expressed in plain words, by some, and in significant silence by others; and debates can only be understood as the deliberations of voluntary partners, who were joint in action, but several in interest, and each of whom had in view a possible withdrawal from the firm if his interests were unpleasantly violated.

II.342.15

—But, however common this feeling, it was not quite universal. The nation had not only been born, but had forced its way into its own place, and though the great mass of the people were willfully or naturally blind to its existence, there were a few who saw the germ clearly, and fore saw its possible development. Chief among these was Washington: his habits of mind, early training, breadth of view, and utter lack of sympathy with the politicians of his own state, combined to make his politics entirely national; while the absolute confidence which the people at large reposed in him made him extremely effective. Second to him in effectiveness, though far beyond him in political ability, was Hamilton, to whose suggestion was due almost every nationalizing measure of the period 1789-95. All his great measures—the incorporation of the national bank, the assumption of state debts, the creation of a national debt, the protection of domestic manufactures by a high tariff, and the enforcement of an excise law—were intended to develop the germ of nationality: the first four by the creation of interests, albeit selfish interests, which should not be bounded by state lines, but should run throughout the nation, form a bond of union, and struggle as if for their own life against any disintegration of the Union; and the last named by forcing a recognition of national power any laying a precedent for its future use, if it should prove necessary. The support which was given to all of these measures by the federalists tended strongly to the political education of that party, but the education was superficial, not radical. Vining, of Delaware, in the debate on the national bank, referring to "the act by which the United States became a free and independent nation, said that from that declaration they derive all the powers appertaining to a nation thus circumstanced"; and the federalist senate, in its answer to the president, Nov. 9, 1792, calls the excise law "a law repeatedly sanctioned by the authority of the nation." But these two strong expressions, both apparently derived from Hamilton, stand almost isolated among the federalist arguments, which regularly attempted to defend Hamilton's measures on economic, not on national, grounds. In fact, the federalist politicians were as blind as their opponents to the idea that "the nation" was now a political entity, distinct even from "all the states"; and when their economic support of Hamilton's measures proved to be a failure, they were as ready as their opponents would have been to suggest a "dissolution of the partnership." (See BANK CONTROVERSIES, II.; FEDERAL PARTY; SECESSION, I.) The supreme court from the beginning took the Hamiltonian view. In its first great case, Chisholm vs. Georgia, in February, 1793, Chief Justice Jay's opinion is a complete synopsis of nationalizing views; and Justice Wilson, after summing up the whole case as comprised in the question "Do the people of the United States form a nation?" answered that they had intended "to form themselves into a nation for national purposes." But the business and influence of the court were as yet comparatively small; and it was not until 1816-20 that it became a powerful factor in accomplishing the results which Jay and Wilson had indicated in 1793. (See JUDICIARY, II.)

II.342.16

—In the meantime a party had been forming which more exactly represented the feelings of the people. (See DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY.) Its formal ground of union was a desire for a strict construction of the constitution, but this was really only an answer to the theory of broad construction introduced by Hamilton (see CONSTRUCTION); a more fundamental bond of union was the belief that the states, while forming one nation in respect to foreign nations, were separate, distinct and sovereign as to one another, and, further, that this national relation was continuously voluntary on the part of each and all the states. The idea is thus summed up in Jefferson's letter to Johnson, June 12, 1823: "The capital and leading object of the constitution was to leave with the states all authorities which respected their own citizens only, and to transfer to the United States those which respected citizens of foreign or other states; to make us several as to ourselves, but one as to all others;" and still more fully in Jefferson's letter to Edward Livingston, April 4, 1824: "The radical idea of the constitution of our government is that the whole field of government is divided into two departments, domestic and foreign (the states in their mutual relations being of the latter); that the former department is reserved exclusively to the respective states within their own limits, and the latter assigned to a separate set of functionaries, constituting what may be called the foreign branch, which, instead of a federal basis, is established as a distinct government quoad hoc, acting as the domestic branch does on the citizens directly and coercively." From this theory the idea of the United States as a nation was carefully eliminated; it was only "a distinct government quoad hoc," dependent for its continued existence on the good will of the states which voluntarily formed it. To the objection that such a union would be worse than unstable, the letter last cited answers thus: "A government held together by the bands of reason only requires much compromise of opinion; that things even salutary should not be crammed down the throats of dissenting brethren; and that a great deal of indulgence is necessary to strengthen habits of harmony and fraternity."

II.342.17

—In the beginning some of the leaders of the new party were disposed to treat tenderly, if not altogether favorably, the idea that the obedience of individual citizens to the federal government should also be voluntary; but before 1800 the programme of the republican, or democratic, party had settled down to that which is given above. In its fundamental idea the mass of the people, consciously or unconsciously, believed firmly; and the opposition of the federalists to it was angrier because it was half-hearted. Most of them were nationalist only for party reasons; their alien and sedition laws were distinctly party, not national, measures; and when they lost control of the federal government in 1801 they became a party of outs seeking to get in—a discredited, factious opposition, without a policy and without the desire for one. Hamilton's work was then to be done over again, and done better. The plant which he had tried to force into a premature fruitfulness was to grow into natural and hardy life as an indigenous product of the soil.

II.342.18

—III. 1801-15. From the accession of the democratic party to federal power in 1801 its fundamental tenet was to be for the next sixty years the actual or nominal canon of American politics, the Procrustean bed to which all political faiths were to be fitted; and yet during all that time it was undergoing in one section of the Union a progressive change, the depth and extent of which was first made manifest in the spring of 1861. The first period of this change relates to the department which Jefferson considered peculiarly that of the federal government, that of foreign affairs.

II.342.19

—It was easier to announce that to enforce the doctrine that the states were foreign to one another and yet an nation to all other powers. Foreign nations naturally refused to accept the American national coin at any higher value than that for which it passed current in its own country. Democratic politicians during this period frequently used the words "nation" and "national," but not in sense which was calculated to inspire any large amount of respect in the great European belligerents. Year after year the demands, the remonstrances, the entreaties, almost the prayers, of the "voluntary confederation" met with either denial or silent contempt, until the great democratic leader regretfully echoed Silas Deane's wish that an ocean of fire, instead of water, had been placed between the two hemispheres. Embargoes and non-intercourse laws only served to swell the chorus of denunciation from New England, and to convince the belligerents that the western republic was no more a nation in its foreign than it its domestic relations. (See EMBARGO.)

II.342.20

—Eleven years of such experiences were never wholly lost. They roused at last a thoroughly national spirit, which burst the shackles of party, thrust many of the old democratic leaders out of power, converted the rest, and in 1812 declared war against Great Britain. (See WARS, III.; CONVENTION, HARTFORD.) Though the peace of Ghent did not secure a single object for which war was declared, it served a greater purpose: it made the United States a nation in every sense of the word so far as its foreign affairs were concerned. A people with whose frigates British war vessels had learned to refuse battle, except on rigidly equal terms, might claim a place in the family of nations, not by tolerance, but by right.

II.342.21

—Even in domestic affairs a step nearly as long had been taken. It was "the nation," not a "voluntary confederation," that had declared war and had carried it to an end, despite all the dreadful possibilities of the great democratic dogma, if New England had ventured to enforce it in practice. The very locality of the last great battle, on the outskirts of the republic, near the distant and only vaguely known city of New Orleans, was a token of empire before which state lines faded away. The close of the year 1815 left the United States a nation, recognized as such by others and apparently on the high road to a similar recognition within its own borders.

II.342.22

—IV. 1815-65. The tokens of the rising internal national spirit are abundant for a few years after the war. The experiment of a national bank was again tried. (See BANK CONTROVERSIES, III.) The question of internal improvements at national expense made its appearance. (See INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS.) The supreme court began a line of decisions in which the national idea was to find its first authoritative enunciation. (See JUDICIARY, II.) Above all, one of the most powerful factors in nationalizing the United States, foreign immigration, had begun its flow. In the ten years ending in 1829, 150,000 had thus been added to the population; and though this was but a small part of the 5,000,000 who were to come before 1860, it was larger than the population of South Carolina, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Georgia, Rhode Island or Delaware had been at the adoption of the constitution. To the immigrant the United States was everything, the state little or nothing; and this stream of nationalism could not but exert in time an appreciable effect on the regions which it covered. But this immigration hardly touched the slave states; it seemed to avoid them as by intuition, and to confine itself to that section of the country in which labor had been freed from every badge of inferiority.

II.342.23

—Had this influence of immigration been the only one which was at work to discriminate the two sections, it could hardly have failed finally, though slowly, to make the north completely national, while leaving the negation of nationality as general in the south as it had been throughout the whole country for twenty years after 1789. But a still stronger influence was at work in the south to convert its negation into an angry denial of nationality. Whitney's invention of the cotton gin in 1793 had made slave labor profitable in the extreme south, and slave raising equally profitable in the border states; the whole slave section had one controlling interest in common; state sovereignty had developed into the far more dangerous form of sectional sovereignty; and the south had already assumed the attitude of an imperium in imperio, a nation within, and directly opposed to, the nation. (See SLAVERY.) Before 1830 the northern divergence from the original basis of American politics was plainly perceptible to southern politicians, who saw it with an honest and unaffected horror and dismay, entirely unconscious that they themselves were at the same time steadily drifting in the opposite direction. In 1832-3 an attempt was made by South Carolina to arrest the evil by her own sovereign will. (See NULLIFICATION.) It failed, and its failure is a landmark in the progress of the national feeling. It was plain henceforward that no single state, nothing but a sectional collection of states, could ever hope to resist the growing power of the nation.

II.342.24

—The current of events was checked for a little, about this time, by that which was in the end to hurry it onward with far greater rapidity, the sudden predominance of democracy in the north. (See DEMOCRATIC PARTY, IV.) At first it brought into power leaders whose only gauge of democracy was state rights; in the end, by increasing enormously the number of voters in each state, it made state lines dimmer, the interests of the state less a matter of personal pride to individual voters, and thus tended more and more to make the nation more prominent. In the south the existence of a ruling class of slaveholders counteracted the nominal universality of suffrage, and kept the state idea in full vigor. Nevertheless the formal language of the leaders of both the great parties, whig and democratic, until about 1852, agreed very closely on the question of the essential nature of the government: all agreed generally that the Union was a compact, formed by states; all were proud of the "voluntary" character of the Union; all seemed to be equally unconscious that the nation was already fully prepared to vindicate its own existence, and to compel the permanence, voluntary or involuntary, of the Union. Northern politicians, at least, seem never to have suspected the radical change that had taken place in their own constituencies, in which the nationalizing stream of immigration had grown into a mighty river. In the six years ending with 1855, 2,500,000 had been added to the population of the United States from this source, more than in all the thirty years before, more, indeed, than the population of either the whole north or the whole south had been in 1789.

II.342.25

—The essence of the long struggle as to the introduction or prohibition of slavery in the territories is simple: were the territories the property of "all the states," or were they the property of "the nation"? (See TERRITORIES.) In the former case, international comity certainly forbade the offensive exclusion of that which any state recognized as property; if the latter, the will of the nation, fairly expressed, was conclusive. The opposition of the free-soil party to the extension of slavery was sectional in its nature, and was intended to curb "the aggressions of the slave power." In the opposition of the republican party the idea that the nation, not "all the states," owned the territories, appeared for the first time. It is but faint in the platform of 1856, where it consists only in a reference to the abolition of slavery "in the national territory," while the democratic platform insists on "the equal rights of all the states" in the territories; but it took clearer form in every successive debate until in 1857 it was the fundamental tenet of the party. This introduction of "the nation" into the controversy was one great reason, wholly disconnected with slavery, for the intense hatred with which the south looked upon the republican party, a hatred which the free-soil party, though kindred in purpose and equally bitter in language, had never excited. And one great secret of the republican party's rapid growth was its success in combining the democratic and the national ideas: the latter gave it a purpose; the former gave it methods which the federal party would have despised, and the whig party had never learned to use, except in the inglorious success of 1840.

II.342.26

—In 1861 a section of the Union at last combined to test the question whether their continuance as states in the Union was "voluntary." (See SECESSION, REBELLION, RECONSTRUCTION) That the answer would be so emphatic, that the masses outside of the slave states had been so permeated by the national spirit, seems to have been totally unsuspected by the leaders of any party. The echoes of Horace Greeley's protest against "a Union pinned together by bayonets," and of his desire that the "wayward sisters" should "depart in peace," if a fair majority of their voters so wished it, had hardly died away when the nation spoke for the first time in our history. The startling contrast between the timidity of the debates in congress in the winter of 1860-61, and the "uprising of a great people" in the following April, only shows that the northern politicians had educated themselves into ignorance of their own supreme national feeling, as well as of that of their constituents. The first shot fired at the flag, the emblem of national unity, tore the bandage from the eyes of both politicians and people; and the war which followed was but the exposition of a fact which had hitherto been hidden under obsolete phrases. There was no basis for the southern reproaches of such democratic leaders as Dix, Douglas and Dickinson, who had been for years lauding the voluntary nature of the Union, and who now threw all their souls into "the suppression of the rebellion. "The man had thrown off the shortened garments of the boy.

II.342.27

—The life of Josiah Quincy, the most brilliant of the early federalist orators, was prolonged until his ninety-third year (1864). He had been a part of the unsubstantial national edifice which Hamilton's magic had evoked out of nothing; he had seen its fall and disappearance; he had declared in congress, in 1811, that the dissolution of the Union was already accomplished (see SECESSION, I.); he had introduced in the state senate of Massachusetts a resolution refusing to express any approbation of the naval victories of the United States in 1812-13; and he lived to see the great national uprising after the fall of Sumter. Nothing in his life is more suggestive in this connection, than the old man's rejoicing and wondering exclamation in April, 1861: "Now I know that we are going to be a great nation! I never felt sure of it before" From that hour the existence of the nation, as an integral element in American politics, is a fact of which every man is bound to take notice. It is no exotic, produced by the forcing of moneyed interests. It is no product of "blood and iron." It is the result of natural, slow, silent, continuous and certain growth. The very slowness of its growth presages the length of its future existence, for the life of nations, like that of animals, may be estimated from their period of childhood. The change from the colonial condition to the nation of the present day, diverse in blood, origin, interests, religion and culture, and yet thoroughly permeated by an intense spirit of nationality, is a fair illustration of the Spencerian formula of progress, "from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity."

II.342.28

—In this line of consideration lies also the historical excuse for the action of the south in 1860-61, and the consequent rebellion. If slavery had never existed in America, both sections would have gone on in a common line of development, admiring the "voluntary" principle of the Union, but never thinking seriously of attempting to enforce it, until some unexpected emergency would finally have awakened both to the fact that national union had taken the place of voluntary association. Slavery was the only element antagonistic to the development of the nation. It had curbed and cramped the progress of the south, and had reduced that section to even a lower plane of national life than that of 1789. The conflict was inevitable; and if the price which was paid great, the result which was gained was inestimable. The shackles were struck from the limbs, not of the black alone but of the superior race as well; the south had then no barrier to her indefinite progress in the future; and in 1865, for the first time, we may say that the United States was, as well as were, a nation.

II.342.29

—V. SINCE 1865. The possible future of the nation must be largely a matter of speculation. There is one aspect of the question, however, in which a recurrence to earlier history may be useful.

II.342.30

—The preservation of the boundary lines of the states, as they had been marked out in the various grants of the king, has always been made the strongest argument against the national character of the United States. If the continental congress, the articles of confederation and the constitution were the work of the nation, why were the states so carefully recognized as essential features in all of them? He who accepts the nebular hypothesis will not trouble himself with speculations as to the possible constitution of the universe if the original nebula had been governed by a law of square or triangular motion: he will take the law which accounts for all subsequent development. And he who studies the development of the national idea in the United States must be prepared to find it governed by law also, and must take the states as an essential part of the nation. In this way only could American individualism be reconciled to nationality.

II.342.31

—It is, therefore, useless to speculate on a possible absorption of state functions by the federal government, the blotting out of state lines, and the formation of a single centralized nation in their place. It would hardly be a complete answer, for all future time, to cite the name of the nation, the United States, as a continuing pledge of state existence, or the express provision of the constitution that no state shall be deprived of an equal representation in the senate without its own consent; for in such matters, as Dr. Draper strongly expresses it, "there is a political force in ideas which silently renders protestations, promises and guarantees, no matter in what good faith they may have been given, of no avail, and which makes constitutions obsolete." Had the states no better guarantee for their existence, it might be worth while to consider the question suggested. But a perfect answer may be found in that law which has always governed, which still governs and which will always govern the political workings of the American mind, the law which makes the state formation an inseparable concomitant of national existence. The separate existence of the original thirteen states was undeniably due to the king's will; but, if they had not been in existence in 1775, the nation would have discovered a way to evoke them, as it has since evoked twenty-five others. It chose instinctively to work through the state formation in 1775 and 1787-8: even in the ferment of the rebellion and the reconstruction, its whole energy was bent to the preservation of "an indissoluble union of indestructible states"; and it is an impossibility to conceive a future American republic in which the state element shall be lacking. The nation would resist an attempt upon the life of the weakest and poorest state as instinctively and as desperately as it would resist an attempt upon its own. It is conscious in every fibre, that it is a being which, like Milton's angels, "vital in every part, can not but by annihilating die."

II.342.32

—(See STATE SOVEREIGNTY, FLAG, UNITED STATES.) The authorities relied upon will usually be found under the articles referred to, but the following should be specially cited; (I.) Lodge's History of the Colonies; Frothingham's Rise of the Republic; (II) Benton's Debates of Congress, 138,305, 383: 4 Jefferson's Works (edit. 1829), 373, 391; (IV.) Bromwell's History of Immigration, 174, 175; Quincy's Life of Quincy, 523.

ALEXANDER JOHNSTON.

Start PREVIOUS
736 of 1105
NEXT End

Return to top